Arab MK Basel Ghattas on Tuesday night denied reports that he had admitted to smuggling cellphones and coded messages to imprisoned terrorists.
Ghattas was questioned by the national serious crimes unit of the Israel Police on Tuesday over allegations he handed miniature cellphones and secret notes to two imprisoned Fatah members, one of whom is serving a 37-year sentence for murder, during a visit at Ketziot Prison south of Beersheba on Sunday.
According to Channel 2 television, during the questioning police showed Ghattas video footage of him handing over the illicit items, and he acknowledged doing so.
But a statement from Ghattas’s office issued later in the evening said he “did not admit in his questioning that he passed cell phones [to the prisoners], as the [Channel 2] report claimed.”
Instead, he “answered all the investigators’ questions and emphasized that he did not commit any violation of national security, and denied the allegations against him,” the statement said.
The statement reiterated Ghattas’s earlier comments after leaving the investigators’ headquarters in Lod: “My visits with the prisoners is part of my humanitarian and moral activism on the prisoners issue, to which I am committed out of a sense of moral and humanitarian justice. The prisoners issue is an unbearably painful one. The prisoners suffer difficult conditions, and dealing with this issue is part of my public and parliamentary duties, which I carry on responsibly.”
Both of the prisoners are members of Fatah. One of them is Walid Daka, who was sentenced to 37 years for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.
Despite Ghattas’s protestations, police said Tuesday night they had concrete evidence against the lawmaker, but that the investigation could not continue unless the attorney general requested the lifting of the MK’s parliamentary immunity.
The investigation was launched after 12 specialized miniaturized cellphones were found among prisoners visited by Ghattas at Ketziot, police said.
After the allegations against Ghattas surfaced this week, lawmakers on Tuesday issued a blanket ban on Knesset members visiting prisoners serving time for terrorism and other security crimes.
The Shin Bet security service recommended the ban on MK visits, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Knesset House Committee Tuesday.
Erdan said he had spoken to Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and “as far as he is concerned, a blanket ban on all meetings between MKs and security prisoners should be instituted,” the minister informed the committee.
The ban could only come from the Knesset itself as lawmakers enjoy parliamentary immunity from such restrictions by ordinary law enforcement bodies. The embargo applies to all prisoners held on security offenses, whether Palestinian or Israeli.